Most of the Disney stories touched me because they reaffirmed the idea that, even though there might be some tough times along the way, things will turn out okay in the end. This is something my childhood self desperately needed to hear - me with the coke bottle glasses, short boy haircut, and shy personality that made me a prime target for daily bullying in the school yard. I continued to have hope, because as Cinderella sings, "no matter how your heart is grieving/ if you keep on believing/ a dream that you wish/ will come true." (My faith certainly helped me too. But that's an entirely different post I'm working on, called Faith and Fairy Tales.)
So when I visited Disneyland for the first time, at about eight years old, I was a combination of shocked, giddy, and overjoyed, to discover that those magical places from all the storybooks and movies were embodied in a real place. There were no bullies in Disneyland, and I was a princess, no matter what I looked like, and the magic was real. Even if I knew we were still playing pretend, it was the most wonderful, glorious, elaborate game of pretend I'd ever played. An interviewer once asked Walt Disney what his favorite moment was out of all his animated films, and he said it was the scene when Cinderella gets her ballgown. That feeling of awe and wonder, beauty and magic and possibilities - that's what Disneyland feels like.
It sounds cheesy - the happiest place on earth, a place where dreams come true - until you get there, and see it for yourself. From every little enchanted flower in the landscaping, to the smiles and pleasant attitudes of each "cast member", to the attention to detail and gorgeous art and thinking outside of the box by the Imagineers on all the rides and attractions, to the full-on commitment the costumed cast members take towards their roles, it all adds up to an environment where you can just let go and dream and have fun. You truly can be a kid again. The park holds everything any kid's imagination has ever longed for: you can run away with pirates and search for buried treasure on the high seas, sneak into a haunted house, fly over London with a pixie, ride a space ship into the future, visit an enchanted castle, brave the dangers on safari through a treacherous jungle, tame the wild west, ride a real locomotive. It's a kid's dream come true.
Each time I've gone back to Disneyland, at different ages throughout my childhood, in college, even for my honeymoon, and just recently as an adult, each experience has been shaded in different magical hues and has been uniquely special. Is it escapism? Yes, most definitely, but it is a type of escapism that reminds you of the good things in life, the things to strive for. On my most recent trip, it was towards the end of the day when I realized I had gone all day without worrying about anything (this is an earth-shattering feat for me, a hard-core worrier and all-around fret-box). Yes, all my troubles would be waiting for me when I got home. I wasn't in denial about that, but for one day, the burdens were gone, and I was just a kid, dreaming about possibilities. Disneyland reminds us of the potential good in each of us, to overcome adversity and find joy. It reminds us to take time just to laugh and have fun. It brings out the kid at heart. I smiled so much that day, my face ached.
The old saying goes "a picture is worth a thousand words", so I'll close here, with probably the only picture of myself that will ever appear on this blog. It was taken by my dear friend, who facilitated my most recent trip back to Disneyland. ("Thank you" just doesn't seem to express my gratitude.) When I look at this picture, I see my eight year old self, just laughing in the moment, free of all cares, and it makes me smile. Life will always be there to give us troubles and no, things don't always turn out the way we want them to, but Disney chose to remind us that if we keep hope and stay true to what we know is right, then just maybe, it "makes no difference who you are/ anything your heart desires/ will come to you." We all need to be reminded of that sometimes...